Second Homes and Love Affairs

I want a second home in a city where I can have a love affair — a love affair with that city! Though I have no doubt there are some people who do buy second homes to indulge actual romance — a love nest pied a terre — I am talking a love affair with the actual city the home is in. The inspiration for this thinking came from an article I just read in The New Geography by Larry Beasley, retired Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver in Canada. He is now the ‚ÄúDistinguished Practice Professor of Planning‚Äù at the University of British Columbia and the founding principal of Beasley and Associates, an international planning consultancy. He chairs the ‚ÄòNational Advisory Committee on Planning, Design and Realty‚Äô of Ottawa‚Äôs National Capital Commission; he is the Chief Advisor on Urban Design for our fair City of Dallas, Texas; he is on the International Economic Development Advisory Board of Rotterdam in The Netherlands; and he is the Special Advisor on City Planning to the Government of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. His point: people tend to fear cities. Cities are crowded, noisy, dirty, dysfunctional. But that is changing, he says: because of the dynamics of urban growth and competition changing so much in the last quarter century, our world has become “footloose, with people and capital moving at will: business can be done anywhere.”

Other aspects of life are more important than one’s livelihood and where people choose to settle is not tied down the way it used to be. We can do and be almost anything anywhere.

Amen, brother Beasley. One of the many reasons why I started this blog was my belief that in the future we will live much differently in our cities and in our homes, and we will have multiple homes. Despite the efforts of the current administration to re-distribute the wealth, our middle class is shrinking. The unprecedented expansion of wealth that is focused in this country on the mid-upper to upper classes will see many of the gentry owning multiple homes for pleasure as well as investment. (Just wait as the great transfer of wealth occurs as Boomers became the grannies.) Look at Aspen: 60% of the town’s homes remain empty while their owners jet set to their other homes. I know people whose marriages are sustained because they can live in their various homes — the cost of the second or third home is far cheaper than a divorce, better for the children, and has at least some appreciation potential.

The multiple home ownership phenomenon will apply to Generation X and Y as well, in lower cost housing units. Gen Y has been hot-housed and nurtured ad nausea by us, and the world truly is their oyster. We sent them abroad as soon as they could fly and enrolled them in various programs across the globe in the name of education — honestly, in the hope of snagging a prime college spot, hopefully at an Ivy institution. Whereas the Boomers had friends in multiple states, Gen Y has friends in multiple countries. They will not hesitate to purchase a small unit in Paris or Barcelona and will, in fact, prefer having two smaller homes rather than one behemoth McMansion.

But I digress from Larry’s thesis, just so thrilled when I run across someone with similar thoughts.¬† He says:

Let’s be blunt: most people hate density because most of it has been so bad; they think of mixed use as probably hitting them negatively and transit is not even in most people’s vocabulary. The ideal of most people is some sort of rural “garden of Eden” that they want to escape to from the city – even if that ends up being an illusory goal.

I sympathize. The cities we have been building since the War have very seldom offered anything very appealing at almost any density. Who can really fall in love with brutal concrete canyons or anonymous strip malls or wind-swept roads?

If cities want to offer an alternative, they must change and bring back the human touch – we have to bring placemaking to the very heart of the civic agenda. We have to stop trading away the urban qualities we care about for the urgencies of the moment of modern life.

I love this. I am trying to fall in love with urban living, but truth is, I find it a pain. When I worked downtown at D Magazine, I loved our beautiful offices. But it took me 30 minutes to walk to the office from the parking lot, which ate up an extra hour per day I could have been blogging or reading. (I know, I may have forgotten this fact of urban life. When I worked in Chicago, I commuted by train to utilize the commute time productively.) I also felt isolated from the real estate market; you cannot easily discern the “for-sale” signs on condos — you must connect with an agent individually, in each building.

On Thanksgiving, my daughter and I ran in the “Turkey Trot”, and we remarked at how different the city looks when you are on foot, not in your car figuring out all the one-way streets, dodging other cars. We noted several restaurants to try, and saw much commercial space for lease.¬† But this was happening on a day of leisure, not in the busy-ness of the deadline-laden work week.

Perhaps I am too “suburbanized”, but no. I spent a week in New York City this summer and spent nearly every day on foot and in the subway. I think we tend to do whatever is easier, faster, more convenient and productive. In New York, that’s mass transit. In Dallas, it still takes a car to be truly efficient.

If you want to have a love affair with your city, she has to be expedient, efficient, dependable and the kind of place where you can connect and feel like you are a part of what’s happening. And you’ve got to be able to get things done. We are getting way too mobile and independent. If she’s not satisfying our needs, trust me: there’s a home in another city that will.